War: A Short History: Preface

War A Short History

The opportunity to write a short history of war is particularly welcome because of the importance of the topic if we are to understand past, present and future. The major themes of the book are all pertinent today: the variety of military environments, systems and methods of warmaking, and thus the need for caution in assessing capability. Rather than assuming, in any specific period, the global effectiveness of a particular army, the theme here is the extent to which a number of effective forces co-exist as they display best practice in specific contexts. The chronological divisions used in the book are designed to focus on ‘world-scale’ issues. In Chapter 3, the West does not have the dominant role it enjoys in Chapter 5, while in Chapter 6 the West faces greater problems projecting its power irrespective of its strength.

With space at a premium, it would be all too easy to present a clear account of readily apparent developments joined in an easy narrative. That would be to insult the reader. Clarity emerges, if at all, from an understanding of complexity, and war, its definition, causes, development and consequences, is highly complex. The Introduction introduces this theme, not least in the case of the definition of war, and complexity repeatedly emerges thereafter, underlining the extent to which discussion today about the nature of war has a long history.

Writing about war can seem to be overly distant from the grisly realities of combat and warfare. Such distance is not the intention here, and for much of human history there has been little attempt to hide the brutality involved. Indeed, the devastation was often celebrated. Weni of Abydos (c. 2375-2305 bce), an Egyptian general who campaigned in Canaan (Israel) in c. 2350-2330 bce, recorded in his triumph poem that his army had ravaged and flattened the ‘Sand-dwellers’ land’: ‘It had cut down its figs, its vines// It had thrown fire in all its dwellings// It had slain its troops by many ten-thousands’. Horror, rather than celebration, was often evident. In 1791 ce a British participant in a victory over the powerful Indian ruler Tipu, Sultan of Mysore, noted: ‘some of the poor fellows [Indians] had ghastly wounds …. Some wretches had half their faces cut off, some their hands lying by their sides; and two bodies I particularly marked which had their hands severed clean off by a single stroke, and lay at a distance from the trunks’.

I have profited from opportunities provided by lectures to develop my ideas. I am particularly grateful for opportunities to speak at the 2008 University of Virginia Summer School at Oxford, the 2006 and 2008 Rothenberg Seminars the Joint War Fighting Center of the US Joint Forces Command, the University of North Texas, High Point University, Union University, Adelphi University, the University of Texas, San Antonio, and Texas A and M University. I would like to thank Ian Beckett, Jan Glete, Wayne Lee, Jürgen Luh, Anthony Saunders, Patrick Speelman and David Stone for their comments on an earlier draft, Robin Baird-Smith for being a most supportive publisher and Sue Cope for her key role in the production process. None is responsible for any errors that remain. It is a great pleasure to dedicate this book to a good friend whose fine intellect matches his companionship.


ce (Common Era) and bce (Before Common Era) are used. Those not familiar with these terms may read them as ad and bc.

Source: Jeremy Black, War: A Short History, Continuum UK, London, 2009

Republished by Kajian Internasional Strategis


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